Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm sat before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on January 27 and made her case to lead the Department of Energy.
She was introduced by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who praised the former governor, saying she “demonstrated in Michigan the vision and leadership we need to tackle the challenges we now face at the national level, including climate change, while ensuring no worker is left behind and our energy security remains uncompromised.”
Granholm’s opening remarks included stories of her family’s emigration in poverty from Canada when she was a child, and her grandfather’s suicide when he was left unemployed and “hopeless.” She offered those as examples of what she said was her commitment to transferring to a clean energy economy without sacrificing jobs, a key theme of her testimony.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the second woman to lead the Energy Department, which employs more than 14,000 people and has an annual budget in excess of $30 billion. DOE was formed in 1977 and is the chief federal agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile as well as energy. Hazel R. O’Leary was the first female DOE secretary, and served from 1993 to 1997.
In her opening remarks, Granholm outlined three objectives that she said she will work on immediately, if confirmed:
- Ensuring the security of America through the National Nuclear Security Administration and clean-up of the nation’s Cold War legacy.
- Supporting the scientific work being done at the DOE’s 17 national laboratories and other facilities across the country, including on climate change and emissions reductions.
- Taking that research to scale and deploying it to create jobs for Americans.
Granholm emphasized boosting domestic battery manufacturing, saying “One-third of all North American battery production is in Michigan. We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America.”
She used this point to push the need for investment in cleantech innovation through DOE loan programs. She acknowledged that although a small percentage of the supported companies could fail or have problems, she said that “States are bringing a knife to a gunfight” when it comes to competing against China on jobs and technology innovation.
In response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Granholm said the goal is to create 10 million jobs transforming energy systems. When he asked if she would acknowledge “there will be irreparable underlying damage” to communities if aggressive action isn’t taken to combat climate change, she replied, “I do.”
Granholm said she is “enthusiastically supportive” of securing critical mineral supply chain, when pressed on the issue by Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK). Using the moniker of “responsible mining,” Granholm highlighted examples of China’s lithium-ion and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s cobalt production, and their record of human rights violations, forced labor, and child labor, as a way to highlight the need of mining in a responsible way. She said that domestic mining ventures can be an effective source of jobs.
Fossil fuel pushback
Disagreements with the Senate panel arose over President Biden’s signing of an Executive Order to pause and review oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) expressed concern about the effect this order may have on jobs and on the future of fossil fuels as a viable energy resource.
In response, Granholm said, that the roughly 10,000 licenses that currently are in force would not be disrupted. “They can continue to permit and deploy.” She said the leasing pause is temporary and would give the administration “time to be able to work on creating jobs and diversifying.”
She said that while she wants to make strides towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, she she would work to achieve that goal “without necessarily leaving fossils in the dust.”
Granholm repeated her support for research and investment into carbon capture technologies. And she repeated her belief that oil, coal, and natural gas have a place in the country’s energy future, as do the people who work in those industries.
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